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FWCS chief: ‘Students … are losing’ at legislature

– With every new bill that is passed in the public education arena, there are winners and losers.

Steve Corona, vice president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board, wants legislators to clearly understand who the winners and losers will be.

School officials outlined legislative frustrations and discussion points to Camille Blunt and Andy Miller of Bose Public Affairs Group, a lobbying firm, during a special work session Friday.

Corona suggested the group put together a definitive list of educational laws and policies and the corresponding winners and losers.

“It’s clearly the students who are losing,” Superintendent Wendy Robinson said.

Three board members, school officials and Blunt and Miller will meet next week with area legislators to preview the issues most important to Fort Wayne Community Schools in anticipation of the Indiana General Assembly convening in January.

The administration and school board will stress the district’s goals of achieving and maintaining academic excellence, engaging parents and the community and operating effectively with integrity and fiscal responsibility.

Robinson said legislators need to know the legislative issues that threaten the district’s ability to meet those goals.

“We need to ask what they can do for us and what is even possible to get done next year,” she said.

During the last session, Indiana lawmakers dealt with 140 pieces of legislation related to education and passed 39 of those bills, Blunt said.

Board President Mark GiaQuinta interrupted as Blunt was presenting a summary of lobbying efforts.

“What exactly does this mean?” GiaQuinta said. “How exactly did these actions benefit our schools?”

“Because it seems we’re getting creamed (at the Statehouse),” GiaQuinta continued. “We have the president of the Senate in our backyard, yet … it sure seems like we’re losing.”

The board will present three group opinions in resolution form, including one passed in August denouncing the new A-to-F school grading system. Board members said the grading system did not take into account the complexity of school districts, including students living in poverty, those learning the English language or students with special needs.

Last year, the Department of Education named Harrison Hill Elementary School an F-rated school through the state’s A-F grading system.

FWCS has 14 A-rated schools, six B-rated schools, 19 C-rated schools and nine D-rated schools, according to the Department of Education.

Indiana school districts were expected to receive new grades Friday, although by 5 p.m., the district had yet to receive notification, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

The district can appeal the grades, she said. The process is expected to be completed and the final scores made public in a few weeks, Stockman said.

Overall, school funding should be the primary focus of talks with legislators, GiaQuinta said.

People need to be aware that the state is now funding two different school systems – public and private – with the same common pot of money, GiaQuinta said.

“It’s not about parents’ choice,” he said. “It’s become the private schools’ choice of who they will teach.”

Because Hoosier taxpayers are now funding Catholic, Muslim, Lutheran and soon, Southern Baptist private schools, those taxpayers should have a say in the boardrooms, GiaQuinta said.

Private school administrations and boards need to be subject to the same open door laws and held to the same standards as public schools, GiaQuinta said.

FWCS board members have also passed resolutions objecting to the expansion of Indiana’s voucher program allowing families to use state money to pay for private schools, and in opposition to any new charter schools planning to conduct classes within the district’s boundaries.

Robinson urged them to continue to present a unified front when addressing educational issues to legislators.

“There are laws that we will not get changed,” Robinson said. “But we must continue to educate the public on what is happening and we must stay on top of these issues.”